Silencing Rachel Corrie
Excellent speech given by Elizabeth Corrie, Rachel Corrie's cousin, at a forum in Atlanta held on September 22.
Elizabeth Corrie's remarks from "Silencing Dissent in the Age of the Patriot Act".
Good afternoon. I've been asked to open up today's theme by talking about a particular case that involves on many levels the "silencing" - or perhaps in this case it would be more accurate to say the "crushing" - of dissent. This is a case in which I am intimately caught up, in which my entire family is caught up. This is the case of Rachel Corrie.
Rachel Corrie was 23 years old when she traveled to the Gaza Strip, to the village of Rafah, last spring, to join the International Solidarity Movement, a nonviolent, Palestinian-led human rights activist organization. Rachel joined volunteers from around the world - "internationals" as they called themselves - in the project of documenting and preventing human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories by the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces. Such human rights abuses include the wholesale demolition of Palestinian homes, curfews, roadblocks and checkpoints, the destruction of the Palestinian Authority's infrastructure, and, of course, the construction of this so called "security fence," a wall of barbed wire and concrete, in some cases 20 feet high, that is steadily snaking and curling its way through the West Bank, well outside the 1967 Green Line in several places, threatening to separate Palestinian villages from each other and create several "ghettos" of walled-in Palestinians surrounded on all sides by Israeli forces and settlers.
Rachel went to Rafah to help the rest of the world see what has been and is still going on the Occupied Territories - activities that are illegal according to international law and unconscionable according to moral law. She believed that, through her frequent communication with her friends and family in the United States and with the contacts she had made with peace and human rights organizations around her hometown of Olympia, Washington, she would be able to be what Martin Luther King called "a voice for the voiceless." She would make ordinary people in America aware of the human rights abuses in Palestine and, through awareness, encourage us to raise our voices in dissent. She herself would voice her dissent in her own way - by physically standing up to the IDF and saying: "No. I do not agree with what you are doing here. What you are doing is wrong, and I will stand here and remind you of that fact until you back down." In addition to voicing dissent, she embodied dissent. And, because her dissent came in the form of her body, the silencing of her dissent came in the form of the crushing of her body.
I would like to tell you a little bit about what happened on March 16th, 2003. I have taken this description from the eyewitness reports of ISM activists. "On Sunday, March 16th, Rachel and her fellow ISM volunteers were confronting the drivers of two bulldozers who were in the process of razing Palestinian civilian land and homes. For two hours Rachel and other ISM activists followed the bulldozers, trying to block their passage and hamper their efforts at destruction. Rachel was clearly identifiable in a bright fluorescent orange jacket and was speaking through a bullhorn." While the bulldozer was still at least 10 meters away, Rachel sat down, a common practice used to signify her intent to remain in place. As the bulldozer came closer however, she got up and climbed onto a mound of dirt and rubble, in order to look the bulldozer driver in the eye. The driver continued to advance, and at some point Rachel fell under the weight of the dirt and rubble heaped on top of her. The driver ran over her, and then proceeded to back up, running over her a second time without lifting up the blade of the bulldozer, which scraped across her body and left a deep gash in her face. This 9-ton Caterpillar bulldozer - manufactured in the US and paid for by US tax dollars - crushed Rachel Corrie's body completely, and she died from multiple fractures and internal bleeding shortly thereafter.
Photographs taken at the scene and eyewitness reports make it nearly impossible to believe that the bulldozer failed to see her. Yet, the IDF has maintained that the driver did not see her, and has called her death "a regrettable incident."
This so-called "regrettable incident" is, however, but one example of the ways in which the dissent of international human rights activists has been silenced. Shortly after Rachel's murder, two more ISM activists were attacked and severely injured. On April 5th, Brian Avery, a 24 year old from Albuquerque, was shot from an armored personal carrier from a distance of about 50 meters, and his left cheek was almost completely shot off. On April 11th, Tom Hurndall, a 21 year old from London, was shot in the back of the head while attempting to pull some Palestinian children from out of the range of gunfire. He now lies in a coma, brain dead, in England. There was no investigation of either of these incidents. Since these events, the International Solidarity Movement and other human rights groups have come under attack. On May 9th, nearly twenty military vehicles surrounded the ISM media office, seized computers and video equipment, pillaged files and photos, broke equipment and damaged office space. Activists were then arrested and deported, and Israel established new policies designed to restrict the activities of internationals and to absolve the IDF from any responsibility for their safety, including a requirement for foreigners entering Gaza to sign a statement relinquishing Israel from any responsibility in the case of injury or death. In other words, human rights activists have been attacked, harassed, and expelled from the area to prevent them from seeing and reporting on the horror of what is really going on in the Occupied Territories. In other words, their dissent has been silenced by their forcible removal.
So, we have seen dissent silenced in the form of murdering, attacking and deporting human rights activists. But the case of Rachel Corrie is a case of multiple levels of silencing.
Dissent has also been silenced in the case of Rachel Corrie because her death has never properly been investigated.
According to Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, the US State Department notified them several months ago that the Israeli Military Police had completed their investigation, that no charges would be brought, that the case was closed and that Israel declined to release a report to the United States government - this in spite of the fact that President Bush had reportedly gained assurances from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the US government would indeed receive this report. With some pressure from the US government, Israel has now permitted a few US officials, as well as Rachel's parents to read the report and take notes. However, no one has been allowed actually to study the report, and the Corries were given only 3 hours to read the 21 page report and take hand written notes, thereafter giving the report back. This military report is by no means a proper, much less an independent investigation into the events on March 16th. It does not include actual evidence, but only summarizes evidence. Photographs taken at the scene, documents of radio transmissions, and pertinent video footage are not presented, and eyewitness reports are merely summarized in synopsis form. The Israeli government, and many US politicians, have used this report as a basis for claiming that an investigation has taken place without ever making the report available for anyone to use as a basis for asking questions or seeking clarification. The case has been declared closed, and, it seems, many US politicians, in response to the numerous letters of constituents demanding an independent investigation, have taken the Israeli government's word on this unquestioningly and have insisted that justice has been done. Justice has NOT been done. There is no credible public record of what happened that day, no possibility to seek further information beyond the scattered accounts we read on the Internet. Justice has most certainly NOT been done - a woman lies dead and no one will accept responsibility - let alone remorse - for her death. Along with the silencing of Rachel through the crushing of her body, the silencing of all the eyewitnesses that were there that day, has occurred through the closing of this case and the refusal on the part of the Bush administration to pursue an independent investigation into the death of a US citizen. All possible dissent that could rightfully come from the public record of what happened that day has been silenced - pre-emptively - without this investigation.
And this lack of public record has fostered yet another form of silencing dissent. In the absence of any official account, right wing talk radio and Christian and Jewish Zionist groups have been allowed to fabricate and perpetuate all kinds of lies about Rachel, her work and the events of that day. She has been labeled a terrorist sympathizer, an anti-Semite, an anti-American, and a silly naοve girl who stumbled into a place where she didn't belong. Those threatened by the witness to Israeli Occupation that her death has provided have mercilessly torn apart her character and memory, and have not spared the feelings of those in grief, sending their hate-filled letters, gleefully celebrating her death, directly to the family. What is perhaps the unkindest cut of all, however, has been from progressive publications such as Mother Jones, who in this month's issue declared that Rachel "herself has fallen into obscurity, a subject of debate in Internet chat rooms and practically nowhere else," and that "the larger message of her life appears to be one of futility." The thousands of people in the United States and around the world who have broken through the propaganda of the mainstream media, and the millions of Palestinian people who lift her up as the first American martyr to the cause of Palestinian freedom and dignity, understand the significance of Rachel's life, work and death and do not consider her life futile, nor have they let her death fall into obscurity. Daily, my family receives emails from around the world, stories from people who had to write to total strangers just to testify to the depth of impact Rachel has had on their lives. There are baby girls who now bear Rachel's name. There are peace centers and awards and scholarships and poems and songs popping up all over the world dedicated to her memory and to the symbol of peace she represents.
And yet, Joshua Hammer can claim in Mother Jones that Rachel has fallen into obscurity. How? Very easily, because the third way in which the case of Rachel Corrie represents the silencing of dissent is the fact that the media is unapologetically biased against anyone who would raise criticism of the State of Israel. All of us who are activists and who have tried to create public conversations about controversial issues that go against governmental and corporate interests know this to be true on a certain level, but my family is a daily and living witness to this. Let me give just one example. Back in April, when there was still some public discussion in certain quarters about Rachel's death, the Des Moines Register published a letter in which the author described Rachel as a well-meaning but misguided fool who suffered the tragic consequences of entering into something she should not have. Our 89 year old grandmother, who has lived her entire life in Des Moines, an active and responsible citizen, the wife of a WWII veteran and the mother of a Vietnam veteran, a life-long voting republican, wrote the Des Moines Register a letter, clarifying this misconception about Rachel as Rachel's grandmother - someone who obviously knew her well. The paper refused to print it. A few days later, another letter was published, again criticizing Rachel for her actions and more or less blaming her for her own death. Mrs. Corrie re-sent her original letter with a cover letter insisting that that her voice be heard - two letters published on one side, with nothing to represent the other side. She reminded the editors that she has been an active, responsible member of the community for nearly 90 years and had a right to be heard. Still they did not publish her letter. A few weeks later one reporter finally came to Mrs. Corrie's house and interviewed her, publishing a very good and fair article. However, this reporter was immediately attacked for her anti-Jewish stance.
In the vacuum that a lack of balanced reporting has created, lies about Rachel, ISM and the situation of the Palestinians continue to be perpetuated. That is, when anything is said at all. If, as Joshua Hammer claims, Rachel has fallen into obscurity, it has only done so within the consciousness of people who allow themselves to be trapped inside a world of falsities created by biased, irresponsible reporting. Lack of COVERAGE of an issue, as we all here know, does not mean lack of INTEREST in an issue. And the blanket summation of false friends such as Mother Jones magazine only serves to create what Noam Chomsky calls the "manufacture of consent" that Rachel's life and death is futile, despite the weekly vigils in her memory, despite the building of houses and peace centers in her name, despite the establishment of scholarships and awards for peace in her name, despite the composition of songs, poems, plays, documentaries, cantatas, and books in her name, and despite the worldwide call for peace and justice in her name. If the media continually blocks out any discussion of the significance of Rachel Corrie, if, when it does talk about her it dismisses her as foolish or futile, then sooner or later the world-wide impact that her life, work and death has had will become silenced. If we are told enough times that Rachel Corrie doesn't matter, then sooner or later many of us are going to believe it.
THIS is the silencing of dissent. This is the silencing of a "voice for the voiceless" and the silencing of all those who would join with this voice in calling for justice. This is the case of Rachel Corrie.
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